There has been an increased discussion around menopause, its impact on female employees and the workforce in recent years. Menopause has occurred when a woman has had no menstrual cycles for twelve consecutive months. The period preceding the menopause is termed the perimenopause and generally occurs for between four and six years prior to the menopause. This period is commonly known as “going through the menopause”. It is generally accepted that menopause affects women between 45 and 60 years of age, however it can occur much earlier for some women. It also accepted that many of the symptoms linked to menopause can have a negative impact on an employee’s health which can impact on their productivity at work. This was highlighted by a 2021 UK study which found that twenty-three per cent of women who had been unwell as a result of the menopause had left their jobs. The spotlight was also placed on this issue in Ireland in 2021 after significant media coverage on the Liveline radio show. Following on from this publicity the menopause issue was incorporated into the Government’s Women's Health Action Plan 2022-2023.
Despite an increasing number of disability cases taken in the UK in relation to the menopause issue there has been no definite ruling as to whether the symptoms of menopause reach the threshold of a disability in the UK. In one of the more recent cases Rooney v Leicester City Council EA-2020-000070-DA and EA-2021-000256-DA, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that the Employment Tribunal was wrong in finding that the Claimant’s menopausal symptoms were not severe enough to constitute a disability. The claim was then remitted to be considered by a new tribunal. A decision is awaited in that case. There is also a growing body of UK case law in relation to sex and age discrimination linked to the menopause.
Protected Grounds – Ireland
Historically Ireland has followed the UK’s lead in relation to many employment issues. However, it is noteworthy that the definition of disability under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (“EEA”) is broader that the UK. Disability as defined by the EEA includes “both the total or partial absence of a person's bodily or mental functions” and “a condition, illness or disease which affects a person's thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgement”. It also includes a disability imputed to a person.